Tag Archives: local food

Fermentation Elation – A Productive Home Post

So! Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
There’s been almost no rain for the past month, which is not a great situation. The garden is looking pretty crispy, even in the back yard where I’ve been watering every day. Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that my soil is depleted enough that it needs some major-by-my-standards remediation. Meaning that – when the heat breaks, and provided I’ve got a spare $20 kicking around – I’m going to try seeding the non-garden parts of the yard with white clover in an effort to at least get some nitrogen back into the ground.
But, for now, I’m relying on my garden for herbs, greens (mostly “weed” greens), and rhubarb. Which is about as productive as it’s able to be right now.
As seen in earlier posts, I’ve been out collecting service berries (see below), as well as wild greens that don’t grow in my yard. But most of the productivity at our home is happening inside the house.
 

 
Inside the house, things are going quite well:
Earlier today, I blanched a bunch of grocery store zucchini (there are another 8 or so in the fridge yet to do) and put them in the freezer, in a silicone muffin tray. I also froze (on a cookie sheet) the last of the service berries, and transferred the latest batch of my fermented wild greens (a litre and a half!) to the fridge, in mason jars. Oh, and I re-bottled the cider that I started fermenting at Winter Solstice.
I put it back in the plastic jug, with a little more bread yeast and some maple syrup for food, to do a technically-third ferment, because it turned out VERY dry and VERY still, and I wanted something fizzier and a little bit sweeter to bring to my mom’s tonight.
Which, I guess, brings me to: I’ve been making booze.
Cider, see above, but also I started a batch of honey-wine a couple of weeks ago, just after Summer Solstice (as seems quite appropriate) and, while it’s a little more ginger-y and a lot less service-berry-y and rose-petal-y than I had been aiming for, it does smell like something I would actually want to drink. So I’m calling it a win. (Here’s hoping it still smells that good after it’s had six months to age in the back of the fridge). I also made ginger beer, which is marvelously fizzy, and which I’ve been drinking heaps of in the hopes of scaring off the sore throat I woke up with this morning. (Seriously… My body’s been kind of a weird barometer these past few months, so I’m hoping this is due to a major pressure change in the night, and not to me getting sick, and that we’re actually going to get some solid, steady rain. Which we badly need!)
I’m thinking I’m going to try making rhubarb country wine – maybe even rhubarb-chokecherry country wine – in another couple of weeks, around Lammas. My goal is to put up a bunch of tasty drinks that I can serve at my Winter Solstice party at the end of the year. 😉
 
In other fermentation news (apparently this is A Thing in my house, now): I’ve made two batches of sour dough bread. I’m still working out the slightly trial-and-error (in my case) process of figuring out how long to cook the stuff, but I’m thinking that third time will be the charm, and cooking it for about an hour and a half should result in some good, tasty, fully-cooked bread that is also easy to cut with a normal bread knife. (I over-baked it and ended up with a very thick crust which, sure, my wife thinks is great, but which I find tricky to do for stuff like sandwiches).
 
Anyway.
Right now? Right now, I’m preparing to do my first experiment in home-dyeing.
I’ve got black beans (which, in theory, will give me a nice blue) soaking on the counter and, on a shelf, I’ve got an old plastic ice cream bucket filled with a mix of water, vinegar, and shredded aluminum foil, in which I am soaking a cotton crop top that I’d like to make bluer than it currently is. (Currently, it’s a kind of faded, greenish pastel turquoise which, while okay, is not ideal).
In theory (in theory) the vinegar will leach some of the aluminum into the water and will mordant the cotton (the vinegar doesn’t really work as a colour fixative for plant fibres, though, I need to use salt for that) so that it will better take up the eventual dye, giving me both a more even AND deeper colour of blue. No idea if it’ll work, but it’s (probably) not going to hurt, so I’m giving it a go.
 
Oh. And I’m knitting a tank top. This is old news, but I’m starting to do the cabling (for shaping) and am knitting in the round and, while it doesn’t look like a shirt (or even a tube) just yet, it’s much closer to being a shirt than it was even ten days ago, so I’m happy about that.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

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Full Moon – Berry Moon Crests

On the left, a tall, 2L glass jar covered with a white and green striped cloth, half-full of beige glop (my sourdough starter). On the right, a blue ceramic cereal bowl full of ripe, dark blue service berries. In the background, the grain of a thick, wooden chopping board.

On the left, a tall, 2L glass jar covered with a white and green striped cloth, half-full of beige glop (my sourdough starter). On the right, a blue ceramic cereal bowl full of ripe, dark blue service berries. In the background, the grain of a thick, wooden chopping board.


 
The moon shifted into Capricorn today. My bee balm and day lilies are getting ready to bloom, the cherries are turning bright, lipstick red, and the service berries are RIPE!
I went out this morning and harvested a bunch – lots still not-quite-there, too, so (weather permitting) I’ll be able to go out again on Friday and harvest another litre or so.
Half of today’s lot (also about a litre) are in the freezer already, while the other half are pictured above in a cereal bowl next to my sourdough starter.
 
Which, also: I’m trying to do a sourdough starter again.
It’s… going better than last time, but… still kind of iffy? It smells VERY boozy, and there’s a pervasive scent of cooked broccoli that I originally thought was coming from the sourdough jar but which… might be coming from somewhere else. (Which is distressing in its own right… do I have a glob of rotting mustard greens somewhere in the kitchen that I can’t see?? Is there a dead mouse hiding somewhere out of reach? Ugh…)
Anyway. Regardless, I’m trying to do sourdough again.
Part of me is seriously going “Why? Don’t you have enough fermented stuff to look after?” Because being able to make bread in a couple of hours (as opposed to the 12+ hours it – in theory – takes to do sourdough once you’ve got a starter actually up and running[1]) is really nice. Especially for someone like me who routinely forgets to take things out of the freezer to thaw in a timely manner. >.>
BUT I’d still like to see if I can make this happen. I like the thought of having… I guess you’d almost call it a back-up plan? In case we have a tighter-than-usual month AND run out of bottled yeast at the same time.
Besides, the thought of being able to make, like, yeast-raised shortcake or yeast-raised coffee cake or whatever just kind of appeals to me. I want to give it a go. 😉
 
Anyway. As I said, I went out to pick service berries today. Chatted with a couple of old guys about them. (It’s funny, women almost NEVER ask me about them. They just notice what I’m doing and, if we make eye-contact, they give The Nod. But dudes? Every. Time). One of them told me about being born in the bush and how his parents would dig up wild horseradish and wild garlic, and said it was nice to see people still doing that stuff.
Which, y’know, was very nice to hear. I still don’t want to go visit him at his “house of the lord”, but hey. I assume he meant well by the invitation.
 
I’ve got a bit of a cucumber beetle infestation happening out on my squash crop – like ALL of them. Buttercups, zucchini, AND cucumbers. Not sure about the butternut squash, but it’s not flowering yet, so who knows. I kind of want to spray everything with soapy water, but I don’t even know if that will act as a deterrent or if I just have to go out there with a chopstick covered in something sticky and keep picking them off.
Alas, probably the latter.
I’m hoping that I still get some zukes and cukes and winter squash off my vines, though. Fingers crossed they everything gets pollinated and that the cute-but-desctructive baby squirrels stop eating the fruiting flowers!
Those motherfuckers.
 
ANYWAY. I have my first harvest of cilantro (a very few fronds) sitting in a mason jar vase in the fridge. I watered the garden today, even though it’s supposed to thunder down rain in short order (and I can see the clouds building from where I’m typing this), because they frankly needed the drink and a little bit extra isn’t going to hurt them. This is the point in the year when my micro-bio-region comes into its “yummy season”, as a friend of mine calls it. We’re still mostly eating just greens (and rhubarb, although that, too, is a leaf-stem, so…) from the garden, along with the occasional snow pea or radish root. I have no idea if any of the fruiting flowers on my squash plants have been successfully fertilized yet, so I’ll have to wait a bit and see. And/or start hanging out in the back yard around 7am with a makeup brush and doing the bees’ duty for them, which might work. But here’s hoping for a fruitful fruiting season in my back yard and beyond!
 
With that in mind, I did today’s tarot card meditation, by pulling two cards and asking myself “How can I cultivate more abundance in my life?”
 
The Chevalier of Swords and the Nine of Swords from the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn.

The Chevalier of Swords and the Nine of Swords from the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn.


 
I have to tell you, I was not expecting to pull a couple of swords out of that deck.
The suit of swords is the suit of air. Of thought processes, “old tapes”, black-and-white thinking, logic, and decision-making.
So my first reaction – or maybe second… after “Wuh??” – was “Oh. Change your thinking“.
If this is a “Who do I need to be? How do I need to be?” duo (I thiiiiiiink that’s one of Asali’s practices, but I might be mis-remembering), this is how it goes:
 
The Knight of Air is decisive. Sometimes that means she flies off the handle, sees enemies everywhere, or springs into action based on the lies in her head, rather than the truths or the facts. Other times, she’s the opposite: Witty and clever, but thoughtful enough to put her feelings on a shelf rather than letting them lead her all over the place.
If “who I need to be” to cultivate more abundance in my life is the Knight of Swords, I think I need to be the second version. I know I tend to get sucked into scarcity thinking and I routinely have to remind myself, when I’m having a hard day emotionally, that no, actually, the story in my head is WRONG and I do, in fact, have friends, have people in my life who love me and check in on me and will support me if I need it.
 
Which brings me to the Nine of Air.
This card has come up before. It’s the “Lying awake at night, can’t sleep for worrying” card. A card about betrayal. A card about “Everything is awful and I don’t know what to do”. Cristy C Road says, of this card, “Rest and grieve, but stay alert to old fears grabbing at your mind. […] Let vulnerability be your strength”.Egypt Urnash – who did the art and the write-up for the deck I drew these cards from – says “take help when it’s offered”… (there may not actually be enemies everywhere).
If “How I have to be [the knight of swords]” is the nine? I think that means I have to allow for some tenderness, some feelings. Be logical, but don’t cut yourself off from your emotions. Think things through, ask “where is this coming from”, rather than assuming that the thought you’re spiraling on is the only accurate way to look at a situation. Recognize when you need a hand (and when one’s being offered), rather than being arrogant/perfectionist about Doing It All Yourself (or having to).
 
~*~
 
Movement: Ha. Well, I spent a couple of hours walking slowly around the neighbourhood, bending fruit-heavy branches down to where I could reach them, and harvesting berries. So that’s definitely some movement going on. Beyond that, there’s been some garden-tending including putting up a trellis for the cucumbers to climb (so far, they’re barely noticing it, but I keep re-directing them and hopefully they’ll grab hold soon) and turning the compost again.
 
Attention: A lot of my attention has been focused on the living things around me. Checking the cukes and zukes for cucumber beetles (and crushing those little bastards), watching the service berries for signs that they’re ripe enough to harvest. Squinting at my sourdough starter, stirring it up, and squinting again, wondering if I’m actually seeing signs of bubbly life or not.
 
Gratitude: Thankful for a garden that feeds us. For a city that decided “Hey, these fruit-producing trees thrive on neglect! And the birds will eat the fruit, so we mostly don’t have to clean up after them, either! Yes! Let’s plant them everywhere!” and planted a lot of food trees in my neighbourhood. Thankful for long-time clients who hire me for week-long bookings that allow me to pay the rent during the summers, when work is kind of scarce. Thankful for a wife who talks me through panic. Thankful for being able to sleep for eleven hours when I needed to. Thankful for tomatoes forming on the vines, and for the friends who gave me their extra tomato plants in the first place. Thankful for the smell of roses. For the peony my friend gave me years ago, and for it finally blooming (first time ever!) a couple of days ago. Thankful for light but steady rain. Thankful for the enormous double rainbow that lit up the sky last weekend (Happy Pride, people who aren’t in Ottawa). Thankful for small birds and art and hot baths and massage bars. Thankful for friends who want to hang out. Thankful for easy strolls to the park with my wife. Thankful for the smell of dill and cilantro and garlic scapes (all recently picked in the garden) clinging to my hands.
 
Inspiration: Re-reading Cooked by Michael Pollan is definitely what inspired me to try making a sourdough starter again. Beyond that, I’ll be attending a book launch tomorrow (Thursday) evening, and feminist writers’ panel discussion on Saturday night, and I fully expect both of those to be inspiring as heck. I’ll be bringing my notebook. (And also money for poetry books).
 
Creation: Picked up my knitting again. I’ve almost got all the stitches for that cotton tank top picked up, so soon I’ll be in the wonderful spot (again) where all I have to do is Knit For Ever and I’ll eventually have a shirt. (I mean, okay, yes, there’s going to be some cabling in there and some increases that I’m hoping to make look a bit like something lacy (hahaha), and holes for something like sleeves (not actual sleeves, but… ish). ALSO! I started playing around with some ideas for a YA novel. Which is, tbh, basically “spite fic”. But it’s 4000 or so words of magical baby-queer dream-woo spite fic, already, so I’m going with it. Also, while this isn’t exactly “creation”, I have been sending out poetry submissions to various magazines – I’ve got one or two more to do in the next couple of days, mind you – and I’m proud of that. Onwards!

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Four / End of Month Wrap-Up

Hey!
So it’s May! Well into May, by the standards of a post that I theoretically should have written a week ago, but here we are.
Eat From the Larder Month is OVER! YAY!

Rappini (I think) – front, left.
Peas (for sure) – right, back-left.


Much like the last time I did this challenge, I’m not feeling the press to go out and stock up on groceries because we’re still doing just fine for food.
Part of that, of course, is that I made the decision to continue buying eggs and milk (and coffee and tea) through the month, as needed, but a lot of it is just… I have a big kitchen, two freezers, and enough storage space that I can house a considerable amount of food supplies at any given time.
The other reason – which is a recent development – is that the perennial garden veggies (along with a TONNE of daikon radish seedlings) have been waking up and getting big enough to harvest. So I’ve been able to add dandelion greens, nettles, Vietnamese garlic, and chives to our meals. I made Pasta (Mostly) Primavera for Beltane Dinner, and it was lovely. It also used up part of my last bag of frozen peas AND a bunch of frozen zucchini (I still have some left), which was nice.
 
Stuff I made during the final week (and a couple of days) of April:
Bread (it’s been really good to get back into that habit)
Vegan brownies (that need to have some mashed beans added, but were otherwise delicious)
Soup ft home-made stock, “wild” garden greens, and glass noodles
Alfalfa sprouts! (A couple of friends gave me seed packages for sprouting, and I finally got around to try it!)
Strata ft home-made bread and Vietnamese garlic greens, along with cheddar, parmesan, and a slice of our (March) Meat Of The Month Club prosciutto
 
Things I’ve Learned This Year:
1a) While I’m happy to make vegan food (or vegan “adjacent” food, as is sometimes the case) every now and then, for pot-lucks or because I feel like it or something looks like it’ll taste good, the thought of cooking it because I “have to” due to not having any animal protein available is just awful. It feels like some kind of weird culinary punishment for not planning well enough in advance. I know that’s messed up, and I’m not knocking anyone else’s dietary decisions, but holy moly do I ever NOT want to eat a diet that is so heavily dependent on beans and grains. Maybe that’s just due to one lousy experience with whole oats early on in the month, but it’s really, really sticking.
1b) I need – or at least want – to buy another half-pig from a local farmer who raises their animals kindly. (And would be open to trading some of said pig, pound for pound, in exchange for duck, roasting chicken, beef, moose, or deer – but not sheep or goat, because they’re hard to digest for Some Reason – so that everybody gets Extra Variety in their freezer). I feel a lot less crappy and hypocritical when I’m eating animals who were raised under good and humane conditions, and I’m very sure I’m not going to stop eating animals, so that’s my option.
2) We still go through a pound of cheese per week.
3) I loooooooooove yoghurt, and am so freaking happy that I’m able (or that my instant pot is able) to do so now. 😀
4) Barley remains my favourite whole (and also polished) cooking grain. Baking grain is still polished, all-purpose wheat flour, hands down, but barley is a queen when it comes to long-cooking dishes. Chewy. Drinks a lot of water without getting mushy. Takes of flavours reliably. Hearty and filling. Easy to get ahold of. Grows well in Saskatchewan, so it doesn’t have to be imported, even though it would be nice if Ontario grew more of it.
5) I will probably not be putting up vast quantities of crushed tomatoes this September. I have so many pints still to go through. While I’m happy to continue using them them up over the next few months, the tomatoes I finished were from September 2016. I still have something like 18 pints of crushed tomatoes from last September to use up, and that’s not likely to happen. I suspect that this year’s preserving goals will be more along the lines of blanching and freezing (and maybe drying) All The Things to make including them in dinners that much easier. Doing vinegar-pickled (so water-bath-canned, rather than lacto-fermented) root veggies and blanched-and-frozen root veggies AND greens, will most likely be my priority, rather than crushed tomatoes.
6) I hate, I hate, I hate austerity. I talked a bit about this at the end of Week Two, but good grief. I made a really great stew, and we ate it for a week, and we were both just so sick of it by the time Friday rolled around, we could barely stand to look at it. I think about all those jars of tomatoes, the pounds and pounds of sunchokes still in the freezer, and I just think “Eugh. I don’t wanna” (which, okay, with regards to the sunchokes, isn’t entirely out of line, given what they do to my wife’s stomach, but I don’t want to waste them either).
 
…I’m not saying that the practice isn’t a good one. That figuring out how to make the same six ingredients taste interesting and palatable for many days in a row isn’t a good idea to do while the safety net is in place. It is. I’m saying that I hate it, and that if I learn (and re-learn and re-learn) anything from this exercise, it’s that my food storage plans MUST include a LOT of variety and, frankly, a lot of convenience food – if, by “convenience food”, I mean stuff that gets made in bulk, in advance, (pressure canned mashed winter squash, chick peas, stewing beef, and pumpkin seed butter, big bags of dried kale and culinary herbs, dry sausage that I can keep in a jar on the shelf and chop up to get a lot of flavour from a very small amount of ready-to-go meat, vast quantities of frozen greens, peas, and already-chopped winter veggies, cider-pickled carrots, rutabagas, and beets) so that when I have to make dinner (that basic skill of resilience that Erica talked about when she first devised this challenge), I can make something fast and healthy (or at least healthy-ish) and lush-tasting without having to think about it.
 
Stuff I was overjoyed to find in my freezer, and which made life easier and more delicious:
Zucchini
Peas
Rainbow Chard
Other frozen greens (kale, wild greens mix)
Butternut Squash
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Sausages
Pork chops
Pork shoulder roasts (two of them)
 
Three of these are pork products (see above re: Get another half a pig). Of the rest, I can definitely grow and/or wild-harvest the rainbow chard and other greens and can probably grow (and definitely acquire for cheap, when in season) the summer and winter squashes. Peas, broccoli, and cauliflower are way more likely to be bought pre-frozen from the grocery store, but they are wonderful too.
Additionally: Frozen OR jarred-pickled peppers of various kinds have been an excellent addition to one-pot meals, and I was really glad to have both on hand. Also, while this year has not been a good year for stuffing ourselves with sunchokes, I maintain that having pre-prepared starchy tubers available in the freezer OR on the shelf (pressure-canned or water-bath-pickled with vinegar) is a great way to make myself eat them. I have determined that I’m far more likely to incorporate a spoonful of salty lacto-fermented beets or half a pint of vinegar-pickled rutabaga than I am to peel and dice them fresh for inclusion. With that in mind, I think it would be wise for me to stock pressure-canned (yes, I know you lose nutrients) and/or frozen root veggies even when they also cure well and will keep for a long time without any prep at all.
 
Anyway. Those are my thoughts. We’ll see what I carry forward. As generally happens at this time of year, I’m more excited about planting veggies and harvesting wild greens (totally going to lacto ferment some dandelion greens in short order) than I am in worrying about too many sunchokes still left in my freezer. I’ll figure something out, I’m sure. For now, off to eat sprouts, pick greens, and probably roast a chicken.
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Three

Ha.
So, in the name of spring cleaning and getting the kitchen a bit less cluttered, I re-boxed all the empty mason jars and, in the process, I took an inventory of my home-jarred… stuff.
Ye gods.
I have over 20 pints of crushed tomatoes still to go through.
Also over a dozen jars of sweet preserves (fruit butter, jam, fruit curd) and six jars of choke cherry relish.
 
It’s a bit of a shock. I knew I had at least a dozen pints of tomatoes, but I didn’t realize I had so much more. Same with the sweet preserves.
 
So, to the surprise of nobody, Fabulous Friday Dinner involved both crushed tomatoes AND choke cherry relish. On a similar note, an up-coming pot luck dessert is going to feature some rose-chili jelly (which was a gift from a friend, not something I put up) and I’ll probably be adding choke-cherry sweet preserves (either Goblin Fruit jam or choke-cherry curd) to my home-made yoghurt for breakfasts and/or snacks.
 
None-of-which will get me anywhere near finished all of this stuff, but at least I know I’ve got it and can plan accordingly.
Heh. I have to admit that the combination of choke-cherry relish and crushed tomatoes worked out really well. Like: Substantially better than I expected it would. (I expected it to be okay. I did NOT expect it to be delicious, which it totally was! Woohoo!)
 
I took a morning to look after the ferments, earlier this week. The fermented previously-frozen-sunchokes are… weird. They are mushy. Which is probably to be expected, given that they started out as blanched (therefore softened) already. They don’t smell weird. They smell like sunchokes that have been fermented with a little bit of tumeric. But the texture is… more than a bit unappetizing.
My plan for them is to (a) strain them out of their fermentation brine, then soak them in some cold water, before (b) adding them to a long-cooking dish like a braise or a slow-baked chickpea stew (most likely also featuring crushed tomatoes… to the surprise of nobody).
Fingers crossed that it works!
 
Things I’ve made this week include:
 
* Yoghurt – cultured for 10 hours, rather than eight, which worked out really well. It’s thick enough to be the semi-solid yoghurt Of My Youth, but also thin enough that, if I add a liquid sweetener like maple syrup or pomegranate molasses, it basically becomes a lovely, mason-jar-portable protein drink. I’m hoping to use goblin fruit jam in a similar manner, though I’ll need to thin it with water or something for that to work. 🙂
 
* The above-mentioned stew – 1 pint crushed tomatoes, 1C choke-cherry relish, left-over potatoes-carrots-onions-cabbage from last weekend’s pot roast, dregs of a bottle of red wine, 1 pkg stewing beef that needed using up, pot barley, onion, dried garden nettles, dried garden sage, rosemary, frozen winter squash, and the last of the (non-garden) frozen kale.
 
* Three loaves of bread + a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It’s felt really good to be baking regularly again. The bread is turning out well. I feel accomplished when I make it. The cookies are a bonus – though it’s nice to fill the oven so completely when I’m baking. No wasted space/heat! 😀
 
* A lot of pot dishes (fried rice, stew, and pasta) featuring left-over roast pork, garlic, and last summer’s frozen zucchini & frozen (garden) rainbow chard, which has been SO lovely. I knew I had some somewhere and I’m SO glad I was able to find them.
 
We’re heading into Week Four. The garden, in spite of a a two-week very cold snap, is starting to wake up. The chives are up (both garlic and onion), the Vietnamese garlic is sprouting, both varieties of rhubarb are poking their heads above ground (and were not deterred at all by the sub-zero temperatures and inch-thick ice from freezing rain), and the dandelions are starting to leaf as well. Which I don’t expect to be harvesting wild greens or early herbs until Beltane (if not slightly later), it’s still really heartening to even see them coming back.
 
Goals for this week include:
 
* Use up 2 litres of crushed tomatoes. (I’ll still have, like, 8 litres left. BUT it’s a start. And there won’t be any fresh tomatoes for months, so…)
 
* Make some kind of jam thumb-print cookies (mix the jam with a beaten egg… I think that’s how to do it) to bake along-side a covered dinner braise/roast in order to (a) not waste the space/heat, but also (b) use up another cup or two of sweet preserves.
 
* Do a breakfast-for-dinner meal where we eat pancakes made with fruit butter and yoghurt.
 
* Maybe, if I’m feeling Very Adventurous, try sprouting something? (Two different friends have given me seed sprouting mixes, and I want to try them out)
 
* Make an excellent (fingers crossed) batch of vegan brownies for the above-mentioned pot-luck. They may or may not be gluten-free though…
 
Wish me luck!
 
 
– TTFN,
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week Two

I have totally bought groceries this week.
Sure, some of it was the stewing beef for a meal I’m making a friend.
But a lot of it was just being too tired to cook in the evening (and so eating the lovely fried egg sandwiches my wife made for us) and then not packing the yoghurt for lunch.
 
Which has me looking at why I’m doing this challenge.
I mean, yes, the whole point is to eat through as many preserves as I can swing, and remind myself that I know how to cook Real Food from scratch, so I’m not (I’m NOT, dammit) going to beat myself up for deciding that I’m not willing to starve for this when I can drop $3 and keep me in discount muffins (which I hid in my temporary desk drawer) for the better part of a week.
But it does have me thinking about Voluntary Austerity.
Both in the sense that Ms Sugar talks about in her book about Glamour Magic – where it’s a tool for making deals with gods and a means of upping your own intensity (which gets you Noticed by humans and non-humans alike) and getting clear on your goals. (Uh. I think). And also in the sense of “doing more with less” in order to prove a point, reach a goal, or learn a new habit… which is more what this challenge was about when Erica came up with it, years ago.
 
Readers? This will come as no surprise to anybody, but: I HATE austerity.
 
Calamity Jane, over at the Apron Stringz archive, has a whole THING about austerity. I can recognize and respect the goals of using less, being less stuck on the materialistic/treat cycle, being more production-oriented than consumption-oriented. I am those things, most of the time. But I want my “use less stuff” to be pleasurable, rather than a demoralizing grind.
I want to look at my larder and say “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Let’s make some magic” rather than “Okay, I’m limited to what I’ve got here. Ugh. This is gonna be so gross…”
 
Case in point, and part of what got me thinking about this stuff: I have a tendency to hoard food. I look at the pork shoulder in my deep freeze and go “I should save that for later, when we might not be able to get another one” rather than going “I should cook this and make a week+ of delicious stew and stir-fry dinners with the vast quantity of left-overs it’ll generate after the initial braise”.
Which means I “save” the food I want to eat, and aim to try to make stuff that I only sort-of want to eat, just to get rid of the less-tasty stuff first.
Largely because of this tendency, I made the mistake (“mistake”) of cooking whole oats (rather than, say, potatoes) early on in the week. Whole oats are great. They cook in 20 minutes (uh… in theory) and they’re chewy like short grain rice. But they’re a bulk food buy and, like buying brown rice in a big sack, sometimes there’s chaff mixed in with the grain. Either that or they take longer than 20 minutes to really cook through.
Frozen turkey, that I’d cooked and put in the freezer six months ago, cooked with oats, red lentils, carrots, pickled sunchokes, cabbage and a mix of chicken stock and white wine. The flavour was excellent. But the mouth-feel of the oats-and-lentils was AWFUL, and did not improve with time.
I ate that stuff for three days, and I am not happy about it.
 
Look. I want to be able to make delicious dishes that feature grains and beans heavily. I want to incorporate whole oats into our household diet in at least a semi-significant way, because eating Ancestrally, is both a good way to connect with your beloved dead (especially the ones far back enough that you never knew them in life), AND a good way to give your body what it needs, by eating what YOUR body would have been eating 1000 years ago and learning to get the best out of.
In my case, that means oats & barley, lots of different wild greens (nettles, dandelion, wild grape leaf, plantain, sow thistle, garlic mustard, wild mustard, wild amaranth, garden/sheep sorrel, etc), bread with oats & rye in it (I am totally sticking to wheat though, because I know how to do that reliably), lots of different bramble-berries (red & black currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, rose-hips, hawthorn berries, and their relatives), kale & turnips, lots of different kinds of meat (everything from fish & shellfish to cattle & pigs, to deer & elk, to rabbit & duck), and tonnes of dairy.
 
Anyway.
With that in mind (uh… ish), I’ve been cooking with wine and whey this week, as well as lots of frozen kale. Which is the other thing I’ve been reminded of, and am resolving to Do Better At this summer: Frozen greens (and fresh greens) are basically the best thing ever, and I need to be on top of growing them from scratch, and freezing batches of them on the regular.
To that end, I started 17 chard seeds (and 3 snow-pea seeds) in peat pots today. They’re old seeds, but I’m hoping they all germinate. I want to have chard starts already growing when I go out at Beltane to rake over the raised beds and dig out any further quack grass that might have tried to start in the past month.
 
This week’s menu has not included much of what I had originally planned out, but HAS included:
Home made bread
The above-mentioned turkey-lentils-and-oats casserole
The above-mentioned giant pork roast (the left-overs of which will feature in a lot of next week’s meals, I suspect, as 3/4 of it is in the fridge and ready to be treated like an ingredient)
A chick-pea stew (made, in part, for a friend who’s having a rough go) – which WAS delicious, fyi (Maybe the answer to my problem is to just stick with barley, rather than oats? I’ll try it and see, next week!), and used up a litre of crushed tomatoes.
A beef stew (made, in part, for a different friend who just got out of the hospital) – it was also delicious, albeit a lot spicier than I personally like (My wife was like “This is how food should be!” to-which I responded “My lips are tingling, this is not a good time!”) My friend, however, makes her own hot sauce from carolina reaper peppers (which I gather make Scotch Bonnets look like Jimmy Nardellos), so she’ll probably enjoy it, even if she finds it a little tame. It used up a litre of salsa, too, which was a help.
AND
Home-made yoghurt – I mentioned trying out my instant-pot last week, and the yoghurt function does, indeed, make yoghurt. Very mild yoghurt, with a lot of whey, at the default setting,but still tasty. Will try to culture it for 10 hours instead of 8 next time, but for now I have almost-drinkable yoghurt that, if I think it out with some berry juice (from thawing frozen berries), I basically get “yop”, and it’s lovely. No sweetener required.
 
We’ll see how next week goes. For now, I think I need to bake a thing – probably a double-batch of rhubarb muffins – so I can bring some to my friend, along with that beef stew and a loaf of bread.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – End of Week One

So. Week One has come and gone, largely without a hitch.
Which is a good thing, because Week One is the easiest week of the challenge and should go without any hitches at all, especially given that I’m doing this challenge on “easy mode”. However it’s also a not-so-good thing because there was, in fact, a hitch.
I got an unexpected extra half-day of temp work this past week (YAY!!!), and duly packed myself a lunch for the hour-long commute between my morning modeling job and my afternoon office job (inter-provincial busing is, uh… special), woke up to an inch of sleet on the streets and, in the rush to get out the door to catch a substantially earlier bus? Big surprise, I forgot my lunch at home.
So I bought my lunch on Wednesday.
Bit of a disappointing beginning there.
BUT!
Beyond that, things have been going fine.
 
My pre-planned meal ideas are working and proving to be at least a little bit versatile.
There’s now enough room in the freezer (thanks to the litre of frozen sunchokes that I thawed out and started fermenting – see below) for me to stock-pile an extra loaf of bread, which means we’ve been eating home-made all week, and nothing has gone moldy (yet), which is fantastic. I’ve made five loaves of bread (we’ve eaten three of them, the other two were made yesterday, along with pancakes and cupcakes).
The previously-frozen sunchokes are fermenting nicely. At least that what it looks like. I’ll start using them in cooking… probably around about Week Three.
The reconstituted mushrooms… don’t seem to be bubbling all that much, but nothing smells weird, so I’m holding off judgement for another little while. I did take the opportunity, once the sunchokes started bubbling, to add a little more of the sunchoke brine to the mushrooms, in the hopes that it’ll help it to take off. We’ll see what happens on that front, but hopefully this time next week, I’ll be telling you that my mushrooms have started to bubble.
The slight up-tick in vegetarian-adjacent dishes (I say “adjacent” because the stews and similar aren’t really vegetarian. I’m still using animal fat and bone stock to cook this stuff, even if the protein is coming from beans and grains) isn’t hurting us any, even if they do leave me feeling a tad hungrier than the same dish with a little bit of tuna or diced pork thrown in would do[1].
I’ve made chocolate chocolate-chip cupcakes and filled them with choke-cherry curd. This didn’t work out quite like I expected – it’s not like putting a dollop of cheesecake batter in the middle of a cupcake, and the curd just kind of got absorbed by the rest of the cake. But it was delicious, none-the-less, and I have no regrets.
I’m remembering to reach for pearl barley, polished rice, and whole oats (oat groats) rather than pasta, as my current go-to carbs, but will need to start pre-soaking great northern and/or black turtle beans soon-ish because, while I’ve got plenty of jarred chick peas and a a few meals worth of Spare Lentils[3], I’m going to run out of those pretty quickly.
 
Which brings me to: I have an instant pot.
Yes, really. A while back, an absolute sweetheart of a friend straight-up bought me an Instant Pot because I mentioned that I wanted to try making yoghurt in one, and they decided they wanted to do something nice for me.
(You guys. My friends are fucking amazing. Did I mention? Holy moly!)
You want to know what an instant pot can do, aside from make yoghurt? It can “pressure soak” beans. Basically, this is the same as bringing dry beans to a boil and then letting them sit, covered, for an hour, before rinsing them and cooking them in new water for the standard cook time. It just takes a lot less time. Which, if you’re staring down a chili dinner, and the tin of beans you thought you had turns out to have been used last week… Is a gods-send.
 
Today, however, I’m using it to make yoghurt. First time out of the box (finally).
Seriously. I’ve tried making yoghurt at home in my parents’ 43-year-old yoghurt maker and… it doesn’t work. Possibly because it’s just a very, very old heat-sleeve that goes on the fritz a bit. Or possibly for Arcane Reasons that I can’t figure out. But the yoghurt I’ve managed to make has been desperately watery unless I add a thickener, like extra powdered milk, and that messes with both the flavour and the texture. Good for cooking, but not very great for breakfast[4].
Fingers crossed that it lives up to its reputation, because I’ve got lots of frozen fruit available, and I’d love to bring pints of fruit yoghurt for lunch on at least a couple of days during this coming week of temp work.
 
Anyway.
Meals for this week have included:
– Braised pork chops with root veggies (carrots, onions, sunchokes), red lentils, cabbage, and dried cranberries
– Pasta with tuna, frozen peas, and cheese sauce (this is a regular at our house, and will continue to be so)
– Turkey stew with pickled root veggies, whole oats, green lentils, and crushed tomatoes
AND
– Chickpea stew with green lentils, pearl barley, crushed tomatoes, dried cranberries, cinnamon and curry powder
 
Meals Ideas for the coming week include, but may not result in:
– Veggie Stew 2 ft a significant amount of vegan (bean-based) sage pesto and, therefore, probably frozen squash, frozen cranberries, and some pre-soaked great northern beans, along with maybe pot barley or, if I have any left, some wild rice (unlikely). This one will probably also have a splish of either white wine or cider vinegar thrown in.
– Pumpkin/Cauliflower “curry” (jar of chick peas, fried onions, frozen pumpkin OR frozen cauliflower florets, quinoa, frozen greens… maybe some coconut milk, and curry powder).
– Stir Fry of onions, reconstituted (non-pickled) mushrooms, shredded cabbage, and marinated firm tofu fried and added to a mix of white basmati rice, red lentils, and frozen greens. This will probably also involve some grocery store hoisin sauce and/or Terrifying Hot Sauce, since I’ve got it.
– Some sort of black bean veggie chili, of which I’ll be making 2-4 extra servings for a friend who’s just got out of the hospital. Some of my frozen winter squash is going to end up in here, along with a couple of pints of crushed tomatoes.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I really don’t understand how the addition of 1C or less of meat to a generous four serving meal (which works out to a maximum of two ounces of meat per serving) lets me feel sated and keeps me from feeling dizzy or hollow when the same meal, minus that 2oz of animal protein, leaves me hungry enough to get stomach cramps, even when I’m deliberately mixing beans, grains, and fats to make sure that the vegetable amino acids are bio-accessible to my non-herbivore digestive system[2]. It’s weird, especially since other folks do BETTER on a beans-and-grains heavy diet, rather than getting sick more easily under those circumstances. But that’s my body for me.
 
[2] Although my non-herbivorousness has more to do with not having a stomach that can get protein from grass & leaves than it does with needing to remember to add fat to anything (whether that’s beans+grains / nuts & seeds, OR extremely-lean meat like rabbit) to be able to get protein from PROTEIN.
 
[3] One of the ways I up both the amino acids and the fibre content of a stew, braise, or other pot dish is to do 1/3 quick-cooking (no soaking needed) lentils to 2/3 grain of a similar cooking time –> So 2/3 C pot barley or long-grain brown rice to 1/3C beluga black lentils, or 1/4 C red or green lentils to 1/2 C pearl barley, oat groats, quinoa, or white basmati rice.
 
[4] Having grown up on yoghurt made in the above-mentioned 1970s-era yoghurt-maker, I’m aware that it will be grainier, and a little bit thinner, than the stuff I get as my live culture starter from the grocery store. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Eat From the Larder Challenge 2018 – Kickoff (beginning of Week 1): A Productive Home Post

So, normally (for a given value of “normally”), I’d hold off posting anything more about Eat From the Larder Month until the end of Week One. BUT I’ve been doing a bunch of “productive home” stuff today, and I wanted to talk about it in the context of starting this challenge off.
 
It being only April 2nd, and yesterday having been Easter Dinner at my mom’s place, we aren’t exactly noticing anything yet on the “I’m not buying groceries” front. So this is more about planning and routine maintenance than anything else.
 
I spent a small chunk of the other day – while at the laundromat, no less – writing up meal plans (or at least “meal ideas”) based on what I thought I had on hand. Of course, to the shock of nobody what-so-ever, there are things I thought I had that I don’t have, and things I thought I was very nearly out of that are highly available. For example, I have NO frozen broccoli, but a LOT of frozen peas, to work with in the freezer. I have more tinned soup than expected, but a significant margin, but pretty much no ground meat (so I can cross “meatloaf” off my meal ideas list).
One of things I have that I wasn’t expecting is, as it happens, soup bones. I thought I’d used them all up, last batch, but NOPE. Turns out there’s a whole other bag of them in the freezer. Which is good, since the batch of stock I made the other day is… on the watery side, and I’d like to be able to boil it down a bit more without having feeling like I should be hoarding it instead. It’s nice to have the option of making more.
 
I made notes about which nights I need to cook something quickly that can also stretch to feed four people – I’ve got seven days of temp work coming up (thank you all the gods!), and know myself just well enough to know that pre-planning those meals, at least a bit, will make my life a LOT easier when I’m frazzled from working multiple back-to-back days of 9-5 (which is not how I usually do).
 
Thanks to a small heap of slow-but-steady spring cleaning that my wife and I have been doing, my kitchen is a lot more functional than it has been. Which feels pretty great, I have to tell you.
Consequently, I’ve got three loaves of bread (not to mention a trifle – which is an easy way to use up the last of a very, VERY stale cake I had lying around) just out of the oven and have been taking care of the ferments this morning:
 
I decanted the kombucha and set up a new batch (and put some of the older kombucha mothers in the compost, because it was getting so that there was more SCOBY than beverage in my fermentation jar, tbh). I’m kind of wondering if I can make vinegar (like, say, red wine vinegar or something) using a kombucha mother. I mean, vinegar is a zillion times less expensive than the alcohol it’s made from (probably because the wine or brandy or whatever you start with doesn’t actually have to taste good, it just has to be fermented enough to function) but I’d kind of like to try making it anyway. Maybe if I ever make cider from wild-harvested apples (six months away at the most unreasonably optimistic of possible attempt-dates), part of it can be re-fermented into vinegar, just to see if it works.
 
Transferred the last of the pickled as’kebwan’/sunchokes to a 2C mason jar in the fridge, and re-filled the fermentation jar with big chunks of blanched-and-frozen (still frozen) sunchokes from the freezer. I have SO MANY, you guys. We’ve been going easy on them, for Tummy Reasons, but it means I have something like 8+ litres of frozen sunchokes on hand and I just… I’m not sure how to get through them all. So I’m trying to ferment them (I used the old brine from the original raw ferment, so it should be inoculated with the right bacteria already, even though the veggies themselves have been killed off by the blanching), just because it will help deal with the inulin and make them easier to digest when added to stews, braises, and pot-roasts. I really hope this works out, you guys. O.O
 
I set up another fermentation experiment. Specifically, I’m trying to do lacto-fermented mushrooms. The main purpose for this is to make adding mushrooms to dinners quick and easy while relying on the dried shiitakes (or, well… something kind of like shiitakes) that I pick up by the Huge Bag every couple of years from the Chinese grocery store up the street. I find, if I just reconstitute them, they don’t always work so well, so I thought I’d try lacto-fermenting about a dozen of them (reconstituted, rinsed, and well-drained) with some thyme, just to see if they work well when added to savoury dishes. Seriously, this is why I lacto-ferment stuff, most of the time. It’s to get “annoying to prep” stuff – like beets, which are kind of messy when you peel them – into a state where I will reliably use them in stuff instead of just avoiding them because they’re messy/dirty/tough or whatever. I’m considering pre-slicing a bunch of carrots and just storing them in a big Tupperware of water in the fridge, for exactly that reason.
 
The plan for tonight is to make a turkey stew using already-cooked turkey from the freezer, plus a bunch of root veggies (some fermented, some not), some crushed tomatoes, and a splish of shiraz. Between that, the trifle, and the bread (I’ve eaten my way through half a loaf already, tbh) we should have a good dinner.
 
But First: I’m having a hot bath. It’s been too long, and I want the heat to soak back into my bones.
 
 
TTFN,
Melaid the Birch Maiden.